For the first time in almost 16 years, the most widely adopted set of rules governing free software has been rewritten and updated to meet the demands of the 21st century.Version 3 of the GNU General Public License, which defines how free software can be used, modified and distributed, is to be released on Friday.The updated license, commonly known as the GPLv3, addresses several issues affecting free software in the current technological ecosystem: digital rights management, consumers’ ability to modify their hardware devices and patent-protection agreements like the 2006 deal between Microsoft and Novell.
In general, the GPL guarantees that anyone is free to study, change and repurpose a program's code,actions rarely permitted by software licenses from the big guys, like Apple or Microsoft. The license also ensures that modified versions of GPL programs are only released under the same free and open terms as the original.
The license is designed to be akin to the scientific method: It allows programmers to build on the work of others, and in turn, make their work available for others to build on.
Version 2 of the GPL is free software's most widely used license, an estimated 60 percent to 65 percent of the world's open-source projects distribute software under it, including the popular Linux operating system. Such widespread adoption makes this revision -- the first in a decade and a half -- that much more critical.
The new license includes clauses and statements preventing hardware manufacturers from using GPLv3 code to enforce Digital Rights Management policies.It also prohibits hardware makers from locking users out of devices that run GPL-licensed software, a practice given the name "Tivoization" after makers of the popular set-top box upset free software advocates by preventing the modification of its devices. The new license sets rules governing the use of GPL software to power web services, and it allows the use of BitTorrent file sharing to distribute GPL works.
After the draft of the new license was completed by its primary author Richard Stallman, the Boston-based nonprofit Free Software Foundation and the New York-based Software Freedom Law Center oversaw an intense period of public review and debate that lasted one-and-a-half years.